Monday, September 7, 2015

10 Ways to Improve Your Sound System

Achieving high fidelity sound reproduction requires proper gear and a good environment. Here are 10 tips to make your system sound sweet.

Improving the performance of your stereo or surround system is a process that requires time, knowledge, and in some cases, money. Here are 10 ideas to get you started on the path to audio nirvana.

1. Optimize speaker placement and seating position—it's free and highly effective. Pull your speakers a few feet out from the wall. Don't sit up against the back wall. Set speaker levels and distances based on your primary listening position. To fully appreciate a 2-channel rig, try listening while precisely centered between the speakers.

2. Improve room acoustics—the room is a part of your system. Use sound absorbing and diffusing materials to tune your listening space. Add a rug between your seat and the speakers. Hang drapes in front of large windows. Bass traps help tame the peaks and nulls known as room modes.

3. Add multiple subwoofers—for better bass, nothing beats using several subs. This is not a trivial upgrade; it can be quite pricey. Also, it's tricky to position, EQ, and time-align multiple subs. The reward is smooth, deep, and powerful bass sound throughout the room.

4. Use room correction and EQ—if your gear's got it, you might as well try it. Many AVRs and pre/pros—as well as standalone processors such as theminiDSP DDRC-88A with Dirac Live—have sophisticated bass management, EQ, and room correction built in. It's no substitute for proper room setup, but when combined with the previous three items in this list, the results can be compelling. 

5. Upgrade your speakers—not free, but speakers are the acknowledged bang-for-the-buck leaders when it comes to equipment upgrades. There are many styles of speakers out there; find out which ones suit your application best and try them out.

6. Add external amplification—modern AVRs are figurative powerhouses, but you can't beat dedicated amplification if you want to take full advantage of your speakers. This is especially true for speakers with low sensitivity and for surround systems in which the AVR has to spread it's limited power supply out over many channels. 

7. Lower the noise floor in your room—turn off fans, air conditioners, and anything else in the room that creates white noise. To further drop the noise floor, you can seal the door to the room, add sound insulation to ceilings and walls, and buy high-flow vents for the HVAC system.

8. Add a dedicated power line—if you have big amps, a dedicated power line can make sure those amps get the juice they need when you turn up the dial. 

9. Use cables that are up to the task—you don't need to spend a lot on speaker wires, but make sure they are of adequate gauge relative to length and maximum wattage. Analog interconnects should be well shielded. Avoid using HDMI cables over 25 feet in length—use an extender balun (HDMI to Cat5/6 or fiber-optic cable) for long runs. 

10. Get rid of the coffee table—if there's a coffee table sitting in between you and your system, this tip is free: Move it out of the way for critical listening.